Academic journal article The Science Teacher

Unsafe at Any Level

Academic journal article The Science Teacher

Unsafe at Any Level

Article excerpt

Even "minimally buzzed" drivers are more often to blame for fatal car crashes than the sober drivers they collide with, reports a University of California, San Diego, study of accidents in the United States.

Led by UC San Diego sociologist David Phillips and published in the British Medical Journal group's Injury Prevention, the study examined 570,731 fatal collisions from 1994 to 2011.

The researchers used the official U.S. Fatality Analysis Reporting System (FARS) database for the study, because it is nationally comprehensive and be-cause it reports on blood alcohol content (BAC) in increments of 0.01%. They focus particularly on "buzzed drivers," with BAC of 0.01 to 0.07%, and, within this group, the "minimally buzzed" (or BAC 0.01%).

Phillips and his coauthors find that drivers with BAC 0.01%--well below the U.S. legal limit of 0.08--are 46% more likely to be officially and solely blamed by accident investigators than are the sober drivers they collide with.

The authors also find no threshold effect--"no sudden transition from blame-less to blamed" at the legal limit for drunk driving. Instead, blame increases steadily and smoothly from BAC 0.01to 0.24%.

Despite this evidence, "buzzed" drivers are often not punished more severely than their sober counterparts. In practice, Phillips said, police, judges, and the public treat BAC 0.08% as "a sharp, definitive, meaningful boundary" and do not impose severe penalties on those below the legal limit. …

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